Dale Pugh graciously took a break from celebrating last night’s Heisman Award to write a review of the recently released “Exodus: Gods and Kings.” Thank you, Dale.”
Let me get this out of the way right up front: Ridley Scott messes with Moses’ story in Exodus: Gods and Kings (EGK). It seems almost inevitable that Hollywood just won’t stick to the facts. I suppose that it does the moviegoer well to remember that producers and directors are not necessarily concerned with commitment to a text. Their goal is to put a story on the screen in order to make money.
Ridley Scott has done his job well with some previous movies. I truly enjoyed Gladiator and still watch it every once in a while. EGK is 150 minutes of so-so storytelling wrapped up in CGI. It is never the ridiculous debacle that was Noah, but the facts do get set aside to a certain extent. Unfortunately, Scott’s vision of the spectacle that was ancient Egypt never quite pulls one into the story he is attempting to tell.
The fact is that I wish we knew more about Moses’ early life. Who did he know? How was he really treated as a member of the royal court? What was his education? Do we know him from Egyptian records by some other name? Ridley Scott’s Moses, played by Christian Bale, is a military commander. We have no historical evidence to prove much about Moses’ life in Egypt, but I’m absolutely convinced that he was uniquely prepared for his ultimate role, and that preparation came through pharaoh’s court. God uses what He wills to use, and a man like Moses is the result.
Ramses, played by Joel Edgerton, is the crown prince, the son of the pharaoh Seti (John Turturro). Edgerton plays his character with a certain amount of bluster and cockiness. He’s a man who knows his place in history and is intent on making sure that his place is secure, no matter how his actions affect the lives of other people. This Ramses is a hard, autocratic, and despotic dictator. A snake-handling, larger than life character, Ramses’ greatest purpose is to build monuments to himself using the slave-labor readily available in the Hebrew people.
Others have pointed out problems with some of the casting, but I didn’t really pay that much attention to it. I did, however, keep imagining Moses in the Batsuit. I also found it hard to not picture Seti on his deathbed saying, “I never was no toad,” and “Do not seek the treasure.”
From the movie’s opening scene, Moses is depicted as an antagonistic agnostic at best. He has no real faith. He believes in his own might and military power. He finally calls God “My God” when he delivers the news of impending doom through the final plague, but Moses really doesn’t step into his role by faith until after the parting of the Red Sea. Given the interaction between Moses and God in the book of Exodus, I don’t know how Moses viewed God or the gods of Egypt prior to his burning bush experience. Maybe he was incredulous at first, but I believe the Bible shows Moses to be fully committed to his task and to his God when he returns to Egypt from Midian.
In EGK, Moses is primarily a military leader. He sees his calling to deliver the Hebrews as a mandate to raise an army. In his attempts to turn the Hebrews into a powerful fighting force, he uses terrorist tactics to force Ramses’ acceptance of his terms. This military aspect is most vividly portrayed, I think, in the fact that Bale’s Moses leaves his staff in Midian and instead carries a sword with him into Egypt. This was, for me, a place where the writers really messed up. Moses’ staff was a tool God used to great effect in scripture, and it was a symbol of his leadership role among the Hebrew people. EGK never really explores the great change that occurred when Moses was in Midian. Biblically, the man who returned to Egypt was much different from the one who ran away forty years earlier. This transformation is pretty much missing in EGK until the end of the film.
God is played by a pre-pubescent boy with an English accent. I’m not really sure what statement Scott was trying to make here (something about innocence and purity perhaps?), but, combined with the plagues and the boy’s somewhat haughty demeanor, it does seem to depict God as capricious and vengeful. God does a lot of yelling at Moses and comes across like that mouthy kid down the street who needs to learn some respect for other people. He certainly has it out for the Egyptians, but His anger with them is juxtaposed against Moses’ compassion for his former friends and family. Interestingly, this is one element of the film that the critics seem to like. They see it as “bold” and “inventive.” Personally, I saw it as a bit silly.
If you’re going to see the movie, see it for the special effects and see it in 3-D. Like Gladiator, the sets and CGI are amazing. Scott’s eye for historical detail is evident down to costuming and weapons. Pyramids, cities, and even the Sphinx are all recreated in incredible detail.
The plagues in 3-D are quite powerful. When Moses is initially unsuccessful at freeing the Hebrews through military means, God tells him, “Stand back and watch.” The natural order goes berserk and Ramses staunchly refuses to relinquish his hold on the slaves. Each of the plagues is depicted with all of its horrifying consequences. While some might interpret the Bible to record ten independent plagues, the movie interconnects these events up to the final plague of death to the first born of Egypt. This is an approach with which I happen to agree.
My only quarrel with Exodus: Gods and Kings is that it’s boring. It has its moments, to be sure. The battle scenes are well done. The special effects are stunning. The story and the acting, though, never really get much traction. The biblical account is filled with so much energy and drama. I’m just not sure what the writers thought they could do to improve on the original. The actors honestly had little with which to work.
Whether you see this film or not, some people in your churches will go see it. They will most likely have questions about the story. Imaginations will be sparked by what is seen, and that, in my estimation, is a good way to point people back to the original story in Bible. My son went to see the movie with me, and I’m grateful for the ensuing discussion we had over dinner together. Those kinds of discussions and the truth of God’s Word can point us back to His story and our place in it.